Minimalism embodied: a minimalist desk image.

Many people reach a point in their lives where they see clutter and excessive personal possessions for what they are: distractions and time-sinks that deeply – and negatively – impact one’s life.  Minimalism seeks to change this.

I am no different; I, too, have been conscious that for many years I have amassed a vast number of gadgets, had far more clothing than I could ever really wear (before it went seriously out of fashion), and bought books far quicker than I could read them.  Freely, I admit, I still do the latter – but I can “hide” them now on my ebook reader!

The Internet’s “Minimalism”

It is amusing to see, particularly on certain social networks, how minimalism is portrayed.  Let’s describe a typically “minimalist” image:

  • White.  It must be white.  White walls, white furniture, mostly-white accessories, all well lit (often artificially).
  • An Apple Mac computer, centre-stage on a desk.  Typically a 21-inch iMac, but sometimes a 27-incher too.  In front of the Mac must be the following:
    • A wireless keyboard & wireless trackpad – both precisely aligned;
    • A notepad
    • A pencil
    • An iPhone
    • Sometimes… a mug of coffee (although I am allowing myself a crossover into that other bastion of internet imagery here, the “Getting Organised!” image);
  • A desk lamp;
  • A single picture on the wall, bordered with a white frame, casting a soft shadow thanks to…
  • A window on the adjacent wall;
  • A crappy plastic chair (still white) that no-one in their right mind could ever sustain a day’s work in;
  • A wooden floor.  Or, if the floor is white, then the desk is wooden.  Or the chair back might be green.  You get the idea.
A silly picture of my wardrobe.
For completeness, here’s a terrible picture of my wardrobe, showing just how far my minimalism still needs to come (it’s not just white, grey or black)!

For an example, check out Jessica Comingore’s minimalist studio.

Flipboard is a great resource for these types of images.  Search for ‘minimalist’ and you’ll soon happen upon this template of what a minimalist lifestyle apparently involves.

What Is Minimalism?

If you Google this, no doubt you will see a definition along the lines of styles in art, music or design.  But these days, “minimalism” has come to mean something else: the removal of superfluous possessions leading to a perceived reduction of stress and distraction in a person’s life.  It’s this definition what I am most interested in, which is the one driving most internet imagery these days.

Minimalism is not, necessarily, about choosing to do without

Minimalism is an interesting side-effect of western capitalism.  The effect of acquiring wealth is curious; it more often than not seeks to be displayed through the adornment of expensive garments, and through “showcasing” the necessity of owning various accessories, plus the outward demonstration of their worth to a “successful” person.  But to many people, myself included, the effect of acquiring objects is that they increasingly demand more time from the owner in order to manage.

This is detrimental to their original purpose, because time will now be split between the owner using the objects, and the owner managing the objects.  Thus, the fewer objects there are – whether these are clothes, cars, bottles of liquor in the cabinet, or watches – the more utility such devices actually provide and therefore the more effective they become both at their original purpose, but also as a showpiece.

What Minimalism is not.

Minimalism doesn’t, in my mind, have any connection with frugality, virtue through sufferance, or eco-mentality.  To me, “being green” and “being minimalist” can be mutually exclusive, although they can also co-exist very well too.

Minimalism is not, necessarily, about choosing to do without.  It is choosing to do with what you need, in the numbers your need it/them, and do without what you don’t.

Minimalism is also not doing without, for the sake of doing without.  It’s a great exercise in making one reconsider what is important and what’s really important to you.  This is the key.  It’s justifiable to say that you need something because it makes you happy.  Most people listen to music because, for their happiness and wellbeing, it’s needed.  That’s fine.

Being minimalist does not mean sitting in a silent, white room, looking at perfectly pressed shirts hanging in a wardrobe.  And it’s also not about choosing £20 shirts instead of £100 shirts.  One can enjoy life’s luxuries, and one probably will enjoy them more, if their number is measured.

My Minimalism Experience

Macbook Pro 2015: forcing my minimalism.
A really expensive laptop considering the spec. A true minimalists machine!
Image of ThinkPad T420: my barrier to minimalist computing.
A great laptop, but sadly superfluous to my needs.

For example, just before Christmas I came to a difficult decision:  I decided I had to sell my ThinkPad laptop.  There were no two ways about it; I had too many computers adoring my house, due to accumulating older work laptops as time went on.

My thinking was, “well, it still works and it’s still powerful enough to do lots of stuff, so I can get more done by keeping it and splitting my activities between the MacBook Pro that I now use for work, and this.”  Except that doesn’t really translate into the bigger picture.  Sure, I could keep both machines and pretend I’m being more productive, but in reality I started spending more time wondering which machine to do what on, or moving data from one to another, or agonising that I was simply distracted by this entire thought process, or generally finding that the MacBook Pro was more portable and thus my preferred choice to take somewhere.

I historically associated my perceived productivity benefits to my ThinkPad, its wonderful keyboard, and loved how I had complete control over the GNU/Linux operating system I used on it.  But in reality, two machines became a burden.  Yet, this wasn’t the only laptop I had “laying around” (although occasionally used).  Actually, I had four other laptops.  This was akin to hoarding, and served no benefit whatsoever.  There was basically no chance I would ever use them all until they broke, one by one.

So before Christmas, each laptop – an HP Pavillion, a ThinkPad T420, another ThinkPad – a T420s, and a Samsung Chromebook, all found new homes.  They also found me richer – not only for the money I made on them, but also for the less clutter I had around the house.

Finally, the agonising dissipated and with that, the stress went.  I had more space to think, fewer options to consider (as far as my computing went) and happier productivity.

Moving forwards

Once you get the bug for selling or giving away old stuff, it is hard to ignore.  As soon as I can find the time I will work on selling more computing kit I have laying around.  And there are other things too – all sorts, in fact.  Like old pieces of furniture (bin/tip), old garden tools (tip/sell), old clothes (donate to charity), one or two old TVs (!) … it goes on and on.  In fact, the speed at which one can acquire goods is absurd.

Moving forwards, reducing this clutter alongside a renewed focus on personal development has already made a huge change in my self-perception.  I feel stronger, lighter and more focused.


If this post has helped you, or if you have had similar experiences, please comment or link below!

20150808_093127
Brasilia style – a good option for any Saturday morning

I’m consciously reworking my way through Taylors’ range of filter coffee.  Many times before we’ve had the Italian style medium roast and, in addition, we’ve also gone for the number 6 strength “Hot Lava Java”.  But sometimes you need a milder option, to more gently ease you into into a state of caffienated bliss.

Score out of 5 … 3. It’s a mellow cup, but perhaps missing some depth to the flavour. Not disagreeable at all though.  Would still recommend.

 

#coffeeftw #saturday

 

 

 

I’ve decided I need to dance more in my life.  Being a techy-programmer-web_developing-CEO-type, there is so little time anyway.  With the remainder, I usually indulge in sci-fi, walking the dog, eating… and occasionally sleeping too.  Yet, being almost an artificial intelligence by any reckoning, I can tell you that Androids are too busy to dream.

Well, this has to stop!  No more sleeping!  Only raving.  It’s essential.

A trip to Miami is essential too.  After all, you can’t be #superhuman all the time!

#trancenation

#CITIZENFOUR

For those who value freedom.

I was lucky to have spotted a recent social media post, alerting me to showings of CITIZENFOUR in London over the past weekend. CITIZENFOUR, in case you are not aware, is a film made by celebrated filmmaker Laura Poitras (Praxis Films), who accompanied journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill to Hong Kong to interview Edward Snowden in the summer of 2013.

My partner and I took a train to Wimbledon. It was an uncharacteristically warm day, summer-like in all regards except the browning of the leaves. The trees looked tired as we marched along to the station; we weren’t missing this film for anything.

In contrast to the anticipation building up inside of me, waiting to see this film, Wimbledon itself was very ordinary. People going about their normal lives. Appetizing whiffs of just-cooked food were wafting over from the market stalls. Traffic was permanently in a hurry with barely any regard for pedestrians’ safety. And the shoppers held an equally high regard for the traffic too, voluntarily stepping out in front of anything coming.

And the shoppers …
voluntarily stepping out in front of anything coming.

The matinée showing at the bijou HMV Curzon cinema was starting just after lunch. I wanted to get there early so that, in anticipation of the queues, we would be assured of a good seat. When picking up our tickets, we spoke to a member of staff behind the bar/counter about the expected numbers.

Staggeringly, four seats had been booked. Including ours. Citizens: four.

To my slight relief, more than four people eventually turned up and attended the showing. Twenty, maybe. Perhaps thirty, tops. In a 110-seat room. And they were comfortable seats too. The best you’d find in any cinema, with lots of leg room and deep, comfortable cushions.

A Tale of Two Cities

After reading Lawrence Lessig’s blog post of his recent cinema outing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with 500 movie-goers attending their picture house, I wondered how there could be such disparity across the pond. For us, there was no line to stand in before entering, and perhaps adding insult to injury, our tickets were not even checked by a member of staff when we walked in to pick our (unallocated) seats.

Perhaps it was the over-air-conditioned screen that turned people away. Considering that outside it was the very end of the British summer and we saw temperatures of 20 deg C, inside was another story altogether. We were lucky if it was more than 14. But I don’t think this was the reason for the poor turn-out; any evidence of forward-thinking would surely have improved the attendance?

What does this say about continued British apathy towards such fundamental issues?

A somewhat senior lady who attended the film, mentioned to me on her way out, “I don’t think I meant to come and see that. I thought it was something else.Citizen Kane, perhaps? I hope she wasn’t one of the original four who bought in advance…

Perhaps people felt it was a story already told. In some ways it was – but arguably, in many ways the whole story had not been told until now. A couple of reveals towards the end of the film were new information to me. Stuff I wasn’t aware of, from reading the Snowden book.

The Wombles

I am glad that a healthy number of people in the US are curious about this subject and decided to explore it further. You might expect this from the residents of Cambridge (Mass.), with its connection to Free Software and socio-political activism, and well done to them.

So, a quick glance at the population numbers of both areas provides some fairly meaningless stats on which to close.

Cambridge’s popn = 107,000 or so. Wimbledon’s: around 60,000.  Roughly speaking, for every 214 residents in Cambridge, one person attended Saturday’s matinée there. Only one person of every 3,040 in Wimbledon managed the same feat.  What does this say about continued British apathy towards such fundamental issues?

I am left feeling that provided Centre Court and strawberries are always available, Wimbledon won’t care much.  Unless, of course, someone personally has an infraction with the law, as a result authoritarian paranoia.  Then, perhaps, it might fill a column in page 7 of the local rag.  Residents might even chat about this at a local pub, in-between opinions on the state of the brew.

But to complain against wrongdoings is normal.  It’s human nature to focus on the oppressors rather than the oppressed.   Luckily, for us, in respectable communities there still burns a glimmer of hope that sense may prevail.

This is a remarkable story of how restoring some balance in nature can have hugely positive ecological effects.

From: http://themetapicture.com/when-they-brought-these-wolves/

“In 1995, wolves were re-introduced into the Yellowstone National Park, after being wolf-free for 70 years. What naturalists and biologist never imagined, was that the most remarkable thing would take place.”

It is remarkable indeed, and so elegant in demonstrating how nature should be respected if the world as we know it is to survive.

I am the first to admit that I am a product of the old guard.  What do I mean by this?  Well, when I started running a business in 2001, when the internet provided unbridled commercial opportunities and there was a scarcity of talent to develop for them, there was a certain modus operandi: keep your cards close to your chest.  Shedding this behavioural axiom feels like the equivalent of standing up naked, in front of a live TV audience, promising them you really are still going to the gym and it’s all a work in progress.  You can expect mixed reactions.

But in the last thirteen years, a lot has changed.  We have seen the meteoric rise of internet-enabled devices and the framework, especially via social networking, for people to express themselves more freely.  In fact, not just “more” freely, but FREELY, period.  With this certain stream-of-consciousness we have also seen how businesses, once the “big blue”s of this world – hidden behind glass and steel, dictating the new world order – have become much more bottom-up, and even grassroots in appearance, if not in total nature.

I would argue that smaller teams in larger businesses will become more fashionable, because they tend to get things done more efficiently.  The challenge has become less about the big wins, and more about how the small, inter-connected wins can be made to work well together.  This, after all, was the original spirit of Web 2.0 (remember that?!).  What Web 2.0 represented was the idea that instead of developing a monolithic web site or business platform which covered all functionality, you could actually interact with other sites and use them too.  And they could use you and your services/data.

This is very much the case today.  How many web sites do you visit where you can log in using credentials from another service/site? This flexibility and openness is not necessarily less secure, though some might argue against global logins – and there are good reasons to be cautious of this.

But, authentication is one of many possible services available on the web, and exploring this loosely-coupled architecture is becomming faster and easier than ever. Through a much greater spirit of discovery, we are bearing witness to an age of more open experimentation, more open discussion, and more open engagement amongst interested parties.  Clients, friends, rivals, competitors.   Finally, we can also celebrate the “failures” too.  The increasingly scientific nature of modern thinking allows egos to be left at the door, and the excitement and joy of new adventures in technology to be more fully appreciated.

Many of us are into technology because of this excitement and enlightenment, myself included.  It’s childlike and, IMHO, a desirable quality in a person.  When you accept you are but one person, you accept a universal truth shared by everyone – and in so doing, acknowledge that while your time is precious, sharing whatever you can from it is a great investment.

On that basis, I am intending to up my blogging rate ten-fold, to try to document the events of my days and weeks and the challenges I face in them.  My experiment will be to see if in doing this – i.e. openly blogging much more of what’s going on in my microbusiness, there is a positive effect on people around, the interest in my business services and, ultimately I suppose, a positive effect on me.

And I will be open about the result.  Stay tuned!

When making my morning brew, I started pondering how to make it more interesting.  Sure, you can add flavour (and waistline) “enhancements” like cream, sugar, maybe some vanilla…  But such unimaginativeness doesn’t last long.

Image courtesy of oddee.com. You can
also buy coffee from the dark side.

What’s needed is a whole new coffee experience. 

Scouring the web for new things to do often turns up very interesting results.  For instance, there’s a whole web site dedicated to Putting Weird Things in Coffee.   Some of those weird things include cheese, meat (!) and even black pudding.  The fascination with meat is prevalent elsewhere, too. Hmm.

But you don’t need to go so far to enhance the flavour of coffee.  One simple food-enhacing staple – salt – has also been used extensively and blogged about for some time.  Clearly, it might be worth trying.

Spices, of course, have provided that added “something” to a good coffee for many years.  Adding spice instead of sugar is also a neat dietary trick for those careful watching calorie consumption.

Taking it up a level

What you put into coffee is only half of the story though.  How much caffeine you ingest daily is another thing.  Curiously, at the time of writing, 66 people “Like” this Facebook page entitled “Extreme Coffee Drinking“, which has no content and not even a picture.  As one quote says, “Coffee: do stupid things more quickly and with more energy“.

Extreme coffee drinking seems to be a sport amongst some.  It’s not merely a question of having multiple cups per day.  Whether the evidence is conclusive that lots of coffee each day can kill you, is certainly still to be debated.

Things can get a bit extreme, though.  Death Wish Coffee, as reported here, promotes extreme levels of caffeine as its USP.  A step too far?  Maybe.  But, it can hardly be contested that we love coffee, and our interest in all things joe-related, together with its growth in the West, continues unabated.  Coffee is recognised as a personal experience, so the growth of single cup products may indicate that social coffee drinking is diminishing in favour of a more insular, smart-phone focused experience.

Taking it too far?

While at university, I recall many a lovely coffee in what is now claimed to be the world’s oldest internet cafe – CB1 (Google Maps link).  I’m not sure about the validity of this claim, but there’s no disputing the charm of a good coffee shop.

But these days, though it’s not all academia, with bustling coffee shops populated by artisans, guarded closely by the intelligentsia.  Caffeine addiction and dependency/withdrawal symptoms are a real problem for some people.  Luckily, the web has many suggestions to combat this.  I suppose one could make a visit to an internet cafe and research this on his or her own…

Perhaps indulging in a caffeine kick is not the best long term policy, but it certainly starts the day well.


Quite simply, I am very happy to be back in Emacs-land.

There I was, thinking that the web-based task managers, to-do lists, etc
were “all that”. Well, ok, I do feel that some are pretty good, as you can tell from
my tag cloud on this blog. But nothing ever felt like it was native to
me, this keyboard and this computer.

I wanted to put tasks on a computer to Screenshot - 100413 - 10:55:20make them easier to manage.  Putting them on a web site didn’t do that, and I don’t think it ever
really will for me. So I’m back in the saddle with orgmode and boy, am I loving this again. It’s amazing how the keystrokes just come back to
you.

Here’s my list of software in Emacs (at  present):

  • mu4e, for E-mail
  • orgmode, for task/calendar management
    mobileorg, for portability
  • weblogger, for blogging (duh)

For coding, I’m also using:

.. plus some other fontification and syntax colouring plugins.

Truly forgot what a joy it is to use this environment, although it does
take a little work setting up.

Working alone can be tiresome.  If you are your own boss, it can be pretty gruelling to keep tabs of your schedule, stay on top of development plans, keep up communications with friends, family, business contacts and your wider network.

Here are five tips that I find help me enormously on days where I work alone.

1. Structure your day

Decide on a routine and stick to it and don’t be tempted to “just do this” when it means overshooting your alloted time

2. Be mindful of your caffeine intake

It is very easy to keep piling up biscuits and gulping down pints of coffee, but this can have a deleterious effect on concentration and productivity

3. Get outside!

As simple as it sounds, taking just 30 minutes away from your screen at lunchtime can make the second half of your day as productive as the first

4. Speak to people

Being totally isolated and not having the benefit of human interaction can make the brain lethargic.  Stimulation by interaction – whether a phone call, or video chat, can help minimise this

5. Decide on your end time

If you are the type of person who likes to knock off 30 mins early, see if you can discipline yourself  to complete “on time”.  Or, if you tend to overshoot and work longer than you should, be firm.  Make your deadline real and stick to it.

I find that these simple rules help maintain a clear mind during both busy and less intense periods.

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